NewsTrail Racing/Mixed Terrain

Seán Nickell, Montane Summer Spine Race 2024

The Spine Race is the most gruelling ultramarathon in the United Kingdom. The 268 mile race with a vertical elevation almost 1.5 times the elevation of Mount Everest  must be completed within 156 hours. Starting at 8am on Sunday morning the participants have until 8pm the following Saturday night – 156 hours – to complete the run, testing them to their physical and mental limits. The Spine follows the Pennine Way from Edale in Derbyshire to Kirk Yetholm in the Scottish Borders taking in the stunning landscapes of the Dales, part of Hadrian’s Wall and the rolling Cheviot Hills. Unlike some ultramarathons where runners complete stages within set times before eating, tending to their feet and any injuries, sorting kit and sleeping at race campsites overnight, the Spine is a non-stop race. Runners have to check in at aid stations along the route where they can deal with all of the above admin and avail of hot food and catch some sleep, but the clock remains ticking. Trackers attacked to the athletes’ backpacks allow the race safety crew and friends and family to monitor their progress however the runners have to be entirely self-sufficient and cannot accept help or outside assistance from supporters 

Of the 110 starters, including vastly experienced European, American and Japanese ultarunners , only 49 completed the course with the winner, GB’s Chris Cope more than 21 hours in front of his nearest rival in 79:10:14. Sue Straw the female winner, also from GB was 10th equal finisher in 12:43:49. The final 3 finishers ran into Kirk Yetholm with just 1 hour and 1 minute to spare. 

Very few local runners have even attempted this race, however Seán Nickell, North Down AC’s most experienced ultarunner, has completed several other extreme ultramarathons including the Arc of Attrition in Cornwall, the Kerry Way and the UTMB TDS race in the Alps over the last couple of years as potential preparation for the Spine, and he completed it in style. The rain, hail and driving winds at the beginning of the week gave way to better weather as he made relentless progress northwards, taking less than 10 hours of sleep until he crossed the line to the finish line where as tradition dictated he kissed the wall of the Border Hotel in Kirk Yetholm before sitting in the plantpot by the wall evoking the famous finish photo of American ultrarunning legend John Kelly, as he finished the course in 24th place in 132:54:58.

Seán even felt refreshed enough to tackle the Wallaceneuk parkrun in nearby Kelso the following morning, having also run the nearest parkrun to the start line at Bakewell in Derbyshire the day before the race; bookending the Spine with parkruns prompted the organisers to dub him the inventor of the Spine Sandwich!